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Behind the Scenes: Traffic Control Aide

Thursday, February 21, 2008

You see Chicago's traffic control aides at busy downtown intersections during the morning and afternoon rush hours. Some criticize, others praise their work but there's no disputing, it can be dangerous. Earlier this month a traffic aide was seriously injured. ABC7's Roz Varon got to go behind the scenes to see what it's like to direct traffic in Chicago and it was a real eye-opener!

As long as there has been traffic in Chicago, there have been people directing it! In the beginning, it was done by Chicago police.

"About 20 years ago or so the Chicago police officers were civilianized and that's when traffic control aides came into being, they were civilians who were specially trained to direct traffic," said Jack Killackey, Deputy director, Chicago traffic management.

Two years ago, the traffic control aides were transferred to the Office of Emergency Management and Communication -- OEMC.

More than 600 traffic aides, try to keep intersections clear during rush hour, parades, sporting events and festivals. You think it's easy?

"Some of them do a really good job and some of them really don't do anything at all," Charles Izenstark, Chicago motorist

"I don't think they're as effective as they could be; people go and cars turn at the same time," said Heidi Smith, Chicago motorist.

"I think it's a very difficult job, the way motorists drive these days, cab drivers, it's a very dangerous job and they just get criticized and they don't get any credit," said Tony Sabbia, Chicago motorist.

Difficult doesn't even begin to describe it! Roz Varon had the opportunity to be a traffic control aide at the intersection of Randolph and LaSalle. Michelle, a seasoned veteran, was her instructor. As luck would have it, she got to do this on the coldest day of the year, with wind chills at minus 20!

"I have on a shirt, under armor, a turtleneck, a sweatshirt, a fleece jacket, another quilted jacket, my traffic aide jacket, 3 pairs of sox, 3 layers of pants, snow pants, 2 hats, a ski mask," said Michelle, traffic control aide.

The first thing Michelle taught Varon is to observe the intersection -- the timing of the signals, the movement of the traffic in each direction and the people crossing the street. It was a lot to coordinate! And then Varon learned the specific hand gestures for each traffic command. Before long, Varon was directing traffic.

Of course, official traffic control aides go through a lot more training -- one week with Chicago police and three to four weeks on the street.

For more information on the Office of Emergency Management and Communications click here.


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